PenalNet: secure e-communication in Criminal Law Practice (PN)

Published on: 29/08/2008 Document

PenalNet is a web platform which will supply a secure network of communication between EU criminal lawyers. The project objective is to develop better communications and strengthen the cross-border confidence of the practitioners. PenalNet provides the security that a lawyer is actually dealing with the wanted colleague, and that the latter is the only entitled to access the content received. Likewise, the system guarantees that the information exchanged cannot be modified or rejected. Communication is encrypted (SSL protocol) between lawyers, always including a time-stamping attested by ‘PenalNet’. Among other functionalities, PenalNet contains a directory of criminal lawyers who are registered at the platform by means of their professional digital certificate, which enables secure online identification and signature. It also allows secure email and document delivery through digital signature, acknowledgment of receipt provided by the platform, acknowledgement of reading and sms alert. All in all, using PenalNet will imply a notable decrease of burocratical delays, allow faster interaction and efficiency, and increase confidence between the professionals and amongst clients/citizens whilst protecting their right to privacy. It will also help to promote a culture of safe communications and closer cooperation at European level which, at present, are at an initial stage. PenalNet is being implemented as a pilot project in five Member States: Spain, France, Italy, Hungary and Romania, each of them putting together 300 tester lawyers. From 2010 onwards, PenalNet aims to become a permanent service provided for every EU qualified lawyer.

Policy Context

Since EU cross-border criminal cases are remarkably increasing, criminal lawyers are obliged to establish fluent direct relationships for which the Internet seems the optimal means of communication. PenalNet is born as a secure online network based on the use of digital certificates. Therefore, it takes into account the electronic signature principles mentioned in the European Directive 1999/93/EC, the RFC 2527, the RFC 2528, the ISO/IEC 17799 and the Recommendation on Electronic Communication and the Internet (CCBE),so as to garantee secure and inviolable communications. Likewise, several European legal intruments implementing transborder criminal justice create a necessity to establish inmediate and secure communication between lawyers from different Member States . The European Arrest Warrant embodies a rapid proceeding in order to facilitate the availability of a person under arrest or a convicted person to the issuing country. Within this procedure, Penalnet helps the assigned lawyer to locate a convenient colleague from another country and to initiate an immediate contact in order to provide an efficient defense to their client by receiving a directly binding communication, facilitating relevant information and even electronic evidence which can be used in the case. We can also mention the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters between the Member States of the EU and two COUNCIL FRAMEWORK DECISIONS: on the application of the principle of mutual recognition to confiscation orders, on the execution in the European Union of orders freezing property or evidence, as well as the proposal of a decision on the European Evidence Warrant for obtaining objects, documents and data for use in proceedings in criminal matters. Finally, we need to mention the COUNCIL REGULATION (EC) on cooperation between the courts of the Member States in the taking of evidence in civil or commercial matters.

Description of target users and groups

Initially, the project is addressed to a pilot group of 1,500 criminal Lawyers from Spain, France, Italy, Hungary and Romania. Users of "PenalNet" will be necessarily provided with a qualified electronic signature (according to the relevant EU legislation). The Bar will certify that the owner of this identity digital certificate currently practices the Legal Profession. The participants should have clients in crossborder cases and be willing to cooperate voluntarily at the pilot experience.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

We will follow a practical approach based on a direct contact with the eligible users of the application, the first step will be an analysis of their needs followed by the definition of the system requirements, the development and deployment of the application and a final evaluation of the outcome. As the starting point of the project, a Seminar will be held in order to establish a framework of cooperation between partners by analyzing scope, implications and challenges concerning os PenalNet. As a closure for the implementation calendar of the project a roundtable will be organized for the analysis of the results and the design of the maintenance and enlargement of the project. Implementation will be lead by CGAE, who will handle: - Organizing the implementation meetings, monitoring and management of the project and dissemination. -Technical development and maintenance: definition of requirements and detailed planning, analysis and functional specification, development, installation, testing, training and maintenance. -Designing, manufacturing the installation kits and certificates, design and coordinate the group of lawyers , compilation of the users data, delivery of certificates and kits to lawyers, coordination of the users’ training. - Creating support Documentation. - Organizing Initial Seminar and dissemination

Technology solution

PenalNet will be a web platform that will provide reliable communication based on digital certificates. The web platform will be supported by three layers infrastructure, consisting of Microsoft IIS front-end, WebLogic Application Server running Java, Struts, AJAX, and XML based technologies among others, while Oracle DBMS as data storing management system. Digital certificates will be handled as qualified sign by the building up of a Public Key Infrastructure ITU x.509.v3. Professional card (smartcard) as a means of Digital Certificate, which agrees to CWA 14169, and Secure signature-creation devices “EAL 4+”. These technologies will allow reliable communication between users holding professional card with digital certificate, in order to sign messages and to avoid the dependance on a particular computer. Platform will keep a regitry of users, as well as advanced directory for lawyers searching based upon features of their CV. Acknowledge of the reception and the reading will be delivered to the sender of the original message, and there configuration of notifications by e-mail and/or SMS on those events will be available. Moreover, the communications will be encripted via SSL standard for every sesion.

Technology choice: Proprietary technology, Standards-based technology, Mainly (or only) open standards

Main results, benefits and impacts

This is the first step towards other European countries participating in the PenalNet platform and enlarging the number of citizens who will benefit of the increasing quality of their right of defence. Penalnet aims at becoming a EU platform opened to the participation of the CGAE counterparts in every Member State of the Common European Area of Justice.

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

Extensive documentation concerning the Certification policy, the software and the use of the website will be delivered to the participants, thus expanding the technological know-how of the Bars. Furthermore, the relevant legislation to the website will be published and directly accessible through the website.

Lessons learnt

In the short term, the output of the project will be an enhanced cooperation of the Criminal Lawyers from Spain, France, Italy, Hungary and Romania by asuring them a channel of secure communications when defending their clients in crossborder cases. The main tangible outcomes will be the website, the software application called PenalNet and the certificates, installation kits and smart readers through which an initial target group of 1,500 EU criminal lawyers will be able to create a secure working network. Moreover, through the training sessions, the Partners staff will gain knowledge and expertise in implemeting the electronic signature which will help to develop further online services.

Scope: International